FLESH-EATING FISH OF ERAWAN FALLS
Bangkok is a great city – modern, exciting, and distinctly Asian. It’s also busy, chaotic, and sometimes a little overwhelming, which is why we didn’t hang round for long! We only got in late yesterday afternoon, after our overland trip from Cambodia, and decided that one night back in this crazy city was enough! So we headed out of the city to Kanchanaburi today and spent our afternoon swimming in idyllic blue waterfalls and chilling out by the Khwae Noi River – much more relaxing than contending with Bangkok’s traffic and long weekend* chaos.
*Monday is a public holiday here in Thailand as it is the King’s birthday this weekend. As a result things in Bangkok were especially busy.
Just 2 hours from Bangkok, Kanchanaburi is a provincial town with a dark history; it was here that Allied prisoners of war and conscripted South East Asian labourers were forced by Japanese forces to build a bridge. Made famous by the book and subsequent movie, Kanchanaburi’s bridge spans the River Khwae Yai – also known as the River Kwai. The bridge was just one of dozens built as part of the Thai-Burma Railway during the last years of World War II, and is one of the reasons we’re here in Kanchanaburi.
Despite its war-time legacy, Kanchanaburi is today a quiet, peaceful town. Home to just 40,000 people (and a few tourists), the city is built where the Khwae Noi and Khwae Yai Rivers converge and nestles prettily amongst the densely forested hills of Western Thailand. Its location at the edge of a mountain range keeps Kanchanaburi much cooler than the other towns in central Thailand, which was an added bonus for us today as we explored the town by rickshaw/pedalo.
Our rickshaw/pedalo drivers took us around the main town centre, past temples and schools richly decorated in golden yellow flags in honour of the King’s birthday. Bhumibol Adulyadej*, Thailand’s much-loved monarch, was born 5 December 1927 and is the world’s longest-serving head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history. Every year the country celebrates his birthday with joyous abandon, with fireworks and many public festivities planned for tonight. All over Bangkok and Kanchanaburi the streets are decorated in gold (the King’s colour) and people are wearing yellow/golden shirts in his honour. Made us feel a bit left out really!
*He is also known as King Rama IX, as he’s the 9th monarch of the Chakri Dynasty.
Our rickshaw/pedalo tour also took us through narrow suburb streets, where tidy little houses stood side-by-side with small shops.
We also passed the old city walls, built in the 19th century to defend the town against the Burmese, who at the time had their eye on some of Thailand’s Western territories.
Kanchanaburi town itself is not that big, and soon we had seen all their was to see in town. With plenty of daylight hours left we then decided to catch a ride out to Erawan Waterfalls, one of the region’s most popular swimming holes.
Situated within the boundaries of Erawan National Park, these falls are famous for their azure waters and rainforest setting. The waterfall is actually a series of 7 separate falls, each feeding the next. It’s about a 90 minute trek to top-most fall through some pretty dense vegetation; we also had to cross a couple of bridges and clamber over some rocks, all of which helped get us hot, sweaty, and ready for a swim! The best swimming spots we found being Waterfalls #4 and #2.
The water was clean and cool, though a little milky thanks to the calcium carbonate and other minerals being leached by the water out of the surrounding limestone hills. Perfect for an afternoon swim!
The funniest thing about swimming in the pools were the fish – not the big, slow, lazy fish that happily swam around us, but the tiny skin-eating fish that came by the hundreds to feast off our dead flesh.
Most of the pools are full of tiny Garra rufa, our “doctor fish” as they’re known around here. These small aquatic creatures feast off dead skin cells and often seen in pedicure salons here, where people pay money to dip their feet in tanks full of the little critters. We got OUR fish pedicures for free today and left Erawan Falls with pink, soft soles. It’s the weirdest feeling, having hundreds of little fish nibble at your feet while your trying to swim; it tickles A LOT, though occasionally some of the bigger fish got a bit carried away and took more than just dead skin with them!
After a couple of hours relaxing in the fish-infested waters of Erawan Waterfalls we headed back to Kanchanaburi and checked into our resort hotel, which is positioned in an idyllic spot along the Northern bank of the Khwae Noi River. We had dinner at the riverside restaurant and now relaxing on our balcony, watching the fireworks light up the sky as people in town celebrate the King’s birthday.
It was nice to have a day to see some of Kanchanaburi; tomorrow we’re going to explore the town’s more sombre sights and learn more about the Thai-Burma Railway – also known as the Death Railway.